The user testing was for the Sequestration Technology Educational Learning Array (STELA) we are developing for the NSEC at Richland Community College. Sequestration? Basically, it is a relatively new technology that captures surplus carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants or ethanol plants and stores this material safely underground. STELA will show visitors how this process works and why it is important.
Building interactive experiences that entertain and engage their audiences is always a challenging job. Quite a bit of careful planning and work goes into strategy, graphic design, content creation, moodboard development, wireframes, graphical user interface design, etc. At The Iona Group, we place a high value on audience feedback and testing. We schedule rigorous testing sessions at several points in the design and development process to make sure that users “get it” and are able to explore the material a fun and intuitive way. Invariably, our test participants give us valuable direction and surface new issues we realize we have to solve.
Test participants last week ranged from 8 years old to 30 something. One thing was universal; participants were driven much more by graphical information than written instructions. With every testing session we conduct, I realize how true this observation is. People want to be excited, jump right into an experience, and be entertained and engaged. If they happen to learn something along the way, that’s OK. Having said that, we understand this reality and have built many installations that have engaged audiences and achieved their intended leaning objectives.
Several of our assumptions for game play were upheld by our testers. Most users were able to move through the experience without issue. The need to move some of the elements to different locations to increase overall interaction became apparent.
It is far better to discover this now than after we have built graphics, animations and programming that need to be revised. Paper prototyping is almost always a bumpy ride but it’s a great discipline that pays off with good insights that make the rest of the development process go smoother.